The term "consolidation" sometimes gets a bad rap in the Tri-Cities, causing an instant division between parochial interests and those with a broader vision.
But we're having trouble finding a down side to a proposal to improve public safety that's before the Benton and Franklin county commissioners.
If emergency dispatching efforts were consolidated, service would be improved, potential risks would be resolved and money would be saved, according to a communications consultant who studied the plan.
Let's get this done. Emergency dispatch is critical to the health and well-being of every member of our community. If it can be done better and with fewer risks of failure, what else do we need to know when lives are at stake?
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The fact that money could be saved is an added bonus, but we'd be in favor of spending more if it created efficiencies and saved lives.
The consultant summed up the issue succinctly for commissioners: "Existing strategic management decisions are tied to systems and jurisdictional boundaries rather than how to best deliver services."
Our county officials can do better than that.
Emergency dispatch in our region currently uses three systems: Franklin County dispatch, SECOMM (Southeast Communications Center) and BIPIN (Bicounty Police Information Network) for communications and records management.
Public entities pay $6.6 million per year to run the disjointed system.
In January, a consultant was hired to determine whether consolidation of the 911 network would be beneficial. The study was paid for by a $75,000 federal grant.
It found that each of the three communications systems gathers information, but has difficulty sharing it regionally, even though the technologies exist to do so.
Local governments could remedy our fractured emergency dispatch system simply by reorganizing the management structure.
Creating a more efficient system for sharing information on regional problems such as gang or drug activity would be an obvious benefit. As we've seen in recent months, bridges don't stop gangs from crossing from one city into another.
The consultant said a single system would improve service and response times and would also address another problem: a lack of an adequate backup dispatch capability.
The analysis also shows that all three systems use the same software provider, having individual contracts with Intergraph and each paying annual maintenance costs for the same software. Basically, three different organizations are operating the same system and paying three times the maintenance costs.
Specific recommendations and more information about potential savings will be available in the coming months, but the consultant said a single management system shouldn't cost any more. The systems just need to be combined.
We know that sounds a lot simpler than it probably is, but county commissioners can clear any obstacles if they want to.
We look forward to a plan of action for consolidating emergency services to better protect our citizens.